How to get young people in church

Posted 12 March 2011 by
How to get young people to come to church

How to get young people to come to church. Photo by Mike Urban of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer

There are many statements made as aphorisms about the subject of getting young people or young adults to come to church. Most have to do with the need to do things that show the church is “with it.”

Rock music. Overhead projectors. Pastors wearing trendy clothes. Being hip. Technology.

You need to do all of these things. Period.

There is no doubt that there are venues that play to this. These places have large crowds on Sunday morning.

They knew what they were doing

They knew what they were doing. And Wake at the University of New Mexico was proud this went viral.

Sometimes the very goal is to be edgy. Wake at UNM was proud that their “WTF” banners went viral on the web.

This is what happens when you let WWE marketing define the meaning of evangelism. Actually, WWE prides itself in providing family-friendly content in all its platforms, something that Wake at UNM could learn. (“Daddy, what does ‘WTF’ mean?”)

Is this evangelism or entertainment?

This issue was discussed quite completely in a 1975 movie. Crowds get tired and move on one day.

Is there a better question to ask? I have a suggestion. How do you get young people to church in a way to make it a part of the rest of their lives?

There is an article on the blog The owls and the angels called “ah, the church” that gives 20 things to do in order to get young people in church. The author of this blog was an chaplain for the Episcopal Church in Arizona for four years, only leaving that post in 2010.

You know this is not going to be a typical list when this is the first item in it:

Be genuine.  Do not under any circumstances try to be trendy or hip, if you are not already intrinsically trendy or hip.  If you are a 90-year-old woman who enjoys crocheting and listens to Beethoven, by God be proud of it.

I think this rules out banners that say “WTF” when you mean “worship, teaching, friends.” It may not rule out “WTF” when that is really what you mean.

You know this list really turns things on its head when it say this:

Remind yourself that you don’t have to take God to anyone.  God is already with everyone.  So, rather than taking the approach that you need to take the truth out to people who need it, adopt the approach that you need to go find the truth that others have and you are missing.  Go be evangelized.

That is not the last item in the list.

There are honest feelings that introduce the list, which put everything into context. Read the whole article.

There is much to say in that article as “church as evangelist,” which is the primary purpose of the church. I think there are other functions of the church which this article does not consider which need some consideration. “Consideration” does not mean “control to the point of overriding the primary purpose,” though.

For example, in some places the church or church organizations operate hospitals. This is a part of evangelism, including as it is defined by this article. At the same time, when you have the responsibility of running a hospital, you have to establish some sort of corporate structure to manage that hospital. There is a tension between “being evangelized” and “we have the expertise to run the hospital.” It is a good thing to struggle with mission in this way.

There is something to what was written in this article. Compline at St. Mark’s Cathedral in Seattle does not use trendy banners, projectors, or a rock band. Yet, young adults fill St. Mark’s Cathedral every Sunday evening. Even young people with tattoos.

If you only take one thing away from the article, remember this:

Stop worrying about getting young people into the church.  Stop worrying about marketing strategies.  Take a deep breath.  If there is a God, that God isn’t going to die even if there are no more Christians at all.

(Take note. I probably will never link to a Gaither song again. After all, “We are the church; we have a uber-rich history of amazing music.”)

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